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Archive for February, 2017

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.” Deuteronomy 28:1 (NIV)

 

As God has been changing me and I’ve been seeking to obey Him in all areas of my life, there are a few lessons He has wanted me to learn along the way.

The first lesson God taught was that when I choose to obey Him, really obey Him, life can suddenly seem to get hard… really hard! I don’t think it necessarily is any harder than it was the day before… but I’m making different choices than I did yesterday and therefore, I’m called to a different level of action.  For instance, if I choose to obey God with my food and He commands me to fast, then my food choices are going to look very different today than they did yesterday.  Grabbing that donut isn’t an option and there will be some withdrawal and maybe even temper tantrum or two as my desires of the flesh are learning to submit themselves to my desire to please my Father.

God didn’t call me to a life of easy.  God called me to a life of obedience and usually with that comes sacrifice, self-control and yes, even hard.

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The second lesson God showed me was that obedience isn’t always linear.  Sometimes I will be obeying “perfectly” in one area of my life while another area I can’t seem to obey for a full 24 hours.  That is what I’ve been struggling with for the past 90 days and because of that struggle, I’ve started to feel like a failure.

After the 40 day fast God called me to this summer, I believe He said I needed to follow that up with a 90 day fast.  I was able to fast for 40 days without too much trouble (a few temptations but my heart was focused and I was determined to obey) and so I went into the 90 day fast thinking, “easy peasey.”

Well, I learned quickly that even when God invites us to something and even when I can see the ways He’s clearing the path for my success, I still need to be prayed up and focused because when I get lazy, that’s when I give ample opportunity for the enemy to gain a foothold.  And gain a foothold I allowed.  I did well through Thanksgiving but the “month” of Christmas was my downfall.  I gave in a little here and there and pretty soon, while I never said to God, “I’m done, I quit,” I failed more days than I succeeded.

Come back next time and I will talk about the last two lessons that God taught me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

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“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;” I Peter 5:2 (NIV)

 

Since approximately 2013, God has been working on our family concerning finances.  He has been teaching me that all that we have comes from Him: meaning I don’t work for people, God alone is my CEO.  Whatever paycheck I get, He gave to me.  He wanted me to completely trust Him in this area and I can honestly say that money and finances and paychecks don’t have the same hold on my life as they did previously.

We’ve learned to live quite frugally and mindful and we have also learned the joy of splurging within a budget and enjoying life.  I have learned to lesson my iron fist concerning money and we, as a family, have learned the blessings that come when we obey God with what He has entrusted to us. And we have seen blessings in certain areas of our lives as a result.

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This year, God has taken the same principles I learned through the area of finances and is teaching them to me in the area of time.  My time is as limited or free flowing as my finances.  There will be seasons where I can give more freely of my time and seasons when I will need to save what limited time I have.  Most importantly, I am to listen to God as closely with how I manage my time as I did with how He wants us to manage our money.

Two years ago, I felt in my spirit God calling me to a specific position He wanted me to fill.  I inquired about the qualifications, explained my restrictions and was welcomed in fully.  I knew that I knew that I was supposed to walk in this direction and it was a wonderful experience.  The following year when the opportunity arose again, I didn’t ask God about whether or not it was my responsibility.  I assumed it was still mine.  I quickly realized that while God might have invited others to that position, He never asked me to join them.

That reinforced to me the importance of always asking God’s permission before attempting to fill my schedule with anything.  All of the activities that I wanted to do were good, wholesome activities. However, if God isn’t calling me to fill those roles, or use my time in that way, then I’m hindering someone else from being blessed and I’m choosing not to be blessed in that area in my life.

While I feel I made a mistake and repented for moving full speed ahead without waiting for or receiving God’s green light, for this particular instance, I am choosing to finish well, with excellence, because that is what God expects of me.  He used this experience to teach me a lesson that I needed to learn.

In a few months I will find myself with quite a bit of extra time as positions end and responsibilities finish.  It seems as though God is releasing quite a bit of time, all at the same time.  However, this time I’m going to ask what He wants to replace that extra time with instead of running full speed ahead without His blessing.  I’m glad I learned the lesson that “my” time is really God’s quicker than learning “my” finances were always His to begin with too.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

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Invitation to Change

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NIV)

 

I love talking about how much of a gentleman God is.  He doesn’t push His way into our lives, but He continues to invite us into a relationship with Him.  He knows how much freedom can be found in a relationship with Him, but He is ever the gentleman, giving us a choice and waiting to see what we decide.

While the above choice is the most important decision we will ever make in life, God is a gentleman in every aspect of His relationship with us.  Once we choose to become His child, His gentlemanly behavior continues.  He invites us to a deeper relationship with Him.  He invites us to make the tough choices and give up the bad behaviors and sinful lifestyles, because He knows that with those barriers in between, it prevents the blessings He wants to shower on us from flowing completely. But again, He’s a gentleman and will patiently ask and wait, but never force.

It starts with fully surrendering ourselves to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s just a fancy way of saying we give up control of making all the decisions in our lives and trust the God who created the Universe to guide us to make the best decisions instead. Decisions that will help fulfil the purpose and dreams He put inside us when He formed us in our mothers’ wombs.

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However, it’s still an invitation. A choice.  God won’t force our compliance.  God will just invite and then wait to see what we decide.  Recently God gave me that choice.  I could stay in a job that I loved, with people I enjoyed and a position that fit my gifts and talents, or I could trust Him that He had great plans both for the company He was asking me to leave and for the next leg of the journey He was calling our family too.  He didn’t give me any information except… “It’s time to leave.”  No road map of where I was going.  No emails about exotic places I’d always dreamed of visiting.  Just a simple invitation to follow His prompting (it was His prompting that allowed me the privilege of stepping into the job three years ago, so I was familiar with what it sounded like) and then the ball was in my court.  I had to volley but I had the choice if I was going to volley back to Him or if I was going to choose a different game to join.

While I say God invites and we have a choice, it is my opinion that as a Christ follower, a true follower of Jesus Christ, the choice isn’t a choice.  Not really.  I could choose to disobey… but why would I want to?  If I chose to stay when God was telling me it was time to leave, I would be asking for His blessing to be removed from my life as well as from the company’s life.  I would be preventing another person that God was inviting to apply for my job to accept His invitation to come aboard.  I would be hindering the Holy Spirit from working for His good.

I stand by my statement that God is a gentleman.  He doesn’t force us to do anything but He gently invites.  I pray I never stop hearing His voice and responding in obedience.  Not because I’m greedy and want to always be blessed… okay, maybe it’s because I do want to stay in His blessings.  Because what’s the alternative? Disobedience hinders me from hearing God’s voice and I never want to choose that option.  When God invites me to change… I never want to fail to respond.  I always want to choose to trust His plan is for the best, even when He doesn’t show me the full picture.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

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“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together, I talked about how the power company informed us hours before a power outage that a crew was already assigned and fixing a problem that didn’t exist yet.  Then, the power was restored quickly and we weren’t notified of the solution until hours later, when we were already enjoying the blessing of full electricity.

God used this event to remind me of a truth I already knew but needed to remember.  He is already informed about our challenges, our problems in life.  I will go even further to say that He is aware of them before we even know there is an issue to worry about!   He already has a crew assigned before the first signs of danger appear and sometimes, He gives us reassurance ahead of time that He’s got this, before we have time to consider what it is that He has.  Then, He has already restored full power to us while we are peacefully resting, trusting His plan.

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When things happen in life that are unexpected, I’m assured that they really aren’t a surprise to Him.  He knew about them ahead of time and He already has a solution in the works that is the best for everyone involved.  I have the choice to rest peacefully and let Him work or stress out and take control, getting fatigued and angry.

I may never know why the series of events happened the way they did that particular night.  However, it has just reinforced to me that nothing can come into my life that God isn’t already aware of and taking care of for me, before I even know there is danger.

That, my friends, is a great place to rest – no matter what text message comes across my screen.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

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“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

 

Last week we had a very interesting thing happen to our family.  Bill and I were relaxing together watching TV and my text alert went off.  Not unusual but when I went to check it, it was the power company… telling me that “our power outage had been reported, they had a crew assigned but no restoration estimate available yet.”

Like I said, Bill and I were sitting there watching TV as the phone is telling me we have no power, but the crew is assigned and addressing the issue.  Fast forward approximately 1 ½ hours later – all homework completed, showers taken and everyone is settling in getting ready for bed.  All of a sudden, no power.

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This time I called the power company and the automated message told me that power was estimated to be restored by 11 PM the following day.  More than 24 hours without power.  We now have a reptile living in our home who needs heat lamps.  Gone are the days of pretending we’re pioneers.  With our little one asking the innocent question, “Does this mean Jewel is going to die?” we spent the next 45 minutes starting the generator and showing our son Jewel’s heat source burning brightly before going to sleep.

We woke up the next morning to the wonderful surprise that our power was back, fully functioning.  Knowing I needed to put some gas in the car before taking our youngest to school, we went to a different gas station than usual.  There were only two people pumping gas – us and a man filling up gas cans, a sure sign that he also has a generator.

I proceeded to ask him, “Did you lose power too?”

“Yup,” was his reply.

“I’m so sorry – where do you live?”

In our conversation I discovered that he lived not too far from us and that his estimated restoration time was also 11 PM this evening.

After dropping off our son, I went home and put in a full day’s work and early afternoon received another text alert, from the power company:  “Your power has now been restored.”

That whole experience baffled me.  We live in the country and lose our power a lot.  Especially when the wind blows and it was blowing hard that particular day.  However, never in the 17+ years I’ve lived with my husband have we EVER had the power company alert us that we have no power (when in fact we still do) hours before we actually lose it.  Then, to have it be restored during the night but the power company doesn’t tell me again until hours later.

Come back next time and I will tell you how God used this very interesting event to speak to more for me than just electricity.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

 

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“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” I Peter 4:10 (NIV)

 

In the last two posts, I shared how God allowed two very different experiences when attempting to add a bearded dragon to our family of five plus one dog.  However, little did I know that God would use those experiences to help me with some major decision making I would have to do in the very near future.

Three years ago, January 2014, during a time of fasting and praying, God impressed upon my heart to reach out and ask to volunteer at TBCN.  He had opened up my schedule to include a little free time and Fred accepted my help.  God richly blessed that decision. I’ve loved my job there.  It started out small and grew to include coordinating and organizing the READERS ONLY GROUP and being Editor of Book Fun Magazine.  God blessed me through the family I worked for whom I still consider family, the members, author and publishers I now consider friends, and the valuable experience I gained, skills I learned and confidence it grew within me.  God opened up my eyes to how satisfying it is to work within the gifts that He had created in us.

In addition, because of TBCN, in 2015 when I lost my medical transcription job suddenly due to downsizing, I had skills to change careers and was hired by another amazing company that loves God and allows me to use my gifts for them as well.  Without the experience at TBCN, I never would have had the confidence to think I would even have a chance.

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Recently, almost a mirror image of three years ago, God started impressing upon my heart that it was time to leave TBCN. No bad feelings, nothing happened… I just sensed a “time to go” command from God. Kind of like when the Israelites were commanded to follow the cloud by day and the light by night in the desert.  While it’s not our place to understand the “why” behind the command always, it is our choice to ignore His voice or pick up our stuff and get moving, trusting Him no matter what, even or especially when we don’t know the destination.

I obeyed God’s command and started looking for alternate income, wanting to do my part to walk through doors, trusting God to open and close the appropriate ones as He saw fit.  During 2015 when looking for new employment, I was filled with fear with “what will God expect of me?  Will I be forced to work a job I hate… or hours or outside the home when I don’t feel it’s the right time for that right now?”

That is when our experience with the bearded dragon came back to me.  I don’t want to settle for dragon (job) #1 that isn’t the best fit for our family.  I want to pray about and make sure and wait for Jewel (the job), that best fit our lifestyle.  A job that would fit into the life we already have instead of forcing our family to fit into a rigid job.

Another blessing I gained from working for three years at TBCN was that through that position God uncovered what my talents and gifts are.  He also used that three years to teach me skills necessary to complement other positions He has already chosen for me.

I have peace using that as my test for whether a potential job is an Um potato? or a Jewel – oil and water or the BEST fit for our family.  I was presented with a job opportunity recently and while I’m sure it would be fulfilling and enjoyable, it didn’t meet the requirements of being the BEST fit for our family so I knew I could pass with peace.  If God loves us enough to gift us with Jewel, a lovable pet that keeps getting better and better; then I can trust that He loves us enough to provide the best job fit as well.

Just like I had to reach out and ask the store manager before we could find our best fit, God asks that I step out in faith when He calls me so that He can lead me to my next assignment in His perfect time.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

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“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I was sharing about how our first bearded dragon was more of an alpha dragon and our family does better with passive animals.  The pet store was more than accommodating to help our family find the best fit for us, and today I want to share how God redeemed the entire situation and taught me a lesson that I am carrying over into the rest of my life.  I love how personal God is.

It was approximately one month later when I was finally willing to try again.  We had bought a different cage and different lights and while at a pet store 45 minutes away, God allowed an encounter with another worker who let me hold her personal dragon for about 30 minutes.  This dragon was full grown and the most passive, gentle creature around; yet I was still scared.  I was dreading starting over because I didn’t know if I could handle it; yet I loved my little boy fiercely enough to try.

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We were schedule to go in a week prior, but I woke up with no voice and what was later diagnosed as bronchitis.  We decided to wait one more week, which I know now was all part of God’s wonderful plan.  We stopped at the pet store to buy one more item for the cage (in preparation for the following week) and while my husband looked at items, I stood in front of the bearded dragon cage realizing that one week from now I would be bringing another one home.  And my pulse quickened at the thought.

That is when it happened.  I was by myself.  No workers around, my kids were back and forth looking at the dragons and other reptiles and it was just me and the selection in front of me.  One particular dragon came up to the glass and looked at me with that adorable slanted head look.  First one way and then the other.  I slowly put my finger on the outside of the cage, and she licked it. Then she ran around the log in the cage and kept coming back, as though playing with me.  I seriously felt peace settle into my body and I thought, “Wow, I think I might actually like having this one.”  But, we weren’t buying one for another week so I started to worry.  “What if she’s sold?  What if I don’t remember which one she is?” (they all do look very similar).

Then I remembered, “We’ve been praying for our new bearded dragon for a month, for God to pick out the right one for us.  If this one is it, then she will still be here and I will recognize her.”  I started to look to see if she had any distinguishing features and it looked to me like she had a little more orange around where her tail and body meet.  I nicknamed her “orange butt” and left that day content that if she was the one, we would get her.

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One week later we met the store manager and she greeted us to help pick the best fit for our family.  I asked her which of the ones they had would work well for us and she picked out two… then I asked her about orange butt.  She said that particular dragon would also be great because she was a sibling to the two she picked out and also calm and quite friendly.  She spent two hours with us while we held “orange butt” and her sibling and during that time I started to bond.  Really bond.  The manager was there to help me stay relaxed when I started to get anxious and interpreted the various moods and personality traits.  We left there with a family member, not a pet.  Even after we got home and the manager was still at the store, when my anxiety started to rise, I replayed her words in my head, quickly calmed down and our dragon felt the tension leave my body too.

It’s been a little over a month now, I think.  I don’t keep track because she’s ours.  Her name isn’t orange butt – it’s Julius, Jewel for short.  She definitely has lived up to her description of best fit for our family.  She loves being held and has even fallen asleep in my hands twice now.  She loves to look out the window and watch the birds at the bird feeder and even will climb up on her ledge to let us know she’s lonely and wants to hang out.

She’s still a little squirrely (quite young yet) so I can’t wait until she matures a little more and I can trust her to ride on my shoulder or snuggle on me and sleep, look around or just be with us.

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I’m so glad I didn’t resign myself to life with our first bearded dragon.  The thought of ten years with him was pure torture, for our family.  (Update:  In less than two days, he stopped his temper tantrums because the right people were handling him and within a month or less, he was sold to his forever family who is extremely happy with him too).

God, in His infinite personal love, gave our family an added blessing through this whole experience:  Not only did we get the best bearded dragon for our family but I feel like we’ve made a friend for life with the manager of the store!

Come back next time to find out the best lesson God showed me that I’m still using as my caliber test in all areas of my life.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

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